COP28: Stuttering targets cloud Scottish Government arrival

The Scottish Government is winning more praise at COP28 for its pioneering efforts to kickstart a global movement for climate reparations.

But can SNP and Green ministers really pat themselves on the back when crucial environmental targets at home are stuttering?

The backdrop for First Minister Humza Yousaf and Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan arriving in Dubai for COP28 could have been better.

Last month The Herald revealed that the Scottish Government was not going to be publishing its vital updated climate change plan by the end of November, as promised.

More worryingly, the only date given for when that document is due to see the light of day is the statutory target of March 2025.

Having updated its blueprint for how its 2045 net zero target will be met would have given the Scottish Government’s work and rhetoric on the climate crisis a lot more authority and weight.

But alongside the troubled deposit return scheme, not wholly a bin-fire of the Scottish Government’s own making and vital plans to protect ecosystems through now-cancelled highly protected marine areas – parts of the jigsaw appear to be crumbling.

It is very fair to say that the Scottish Government has rightly been praised for its work helping loss and damage being very much at the forefront of discussions at COP28.

The Herald: The Scottish Government's work on loss and damage has been praised at COP28 – but what about its targets at home?The Scottish Government’s work on loss and damage has been praised at COP28 – but what about its targets at home? (Image: Newsquest)
Maybe without the Scottish Government putting its hands in its pockets back at COP26, global leaders would still have set up a fund in Dubai – but someone had to get the ball rolling, and that was Nicola Sturgeon.

On one hand, the Scottish Government can act more freely at a climate summit as a devolved government.

The Scottish Government’s authority on measures to tackle the climate crisis is limited due to the devolution agreement with the UK Government – and this can hold back progress.

But one thing that devolution cannot curb is the Scottish Government’s moral authority – that need and want to send out a message that countries can hand over cash to developing nations in the global south on the frontline of the climate crisis, largely caused by polluting western economies burning fossil fuels.

After making a name for itself at COP26 when the attention was firmly fixed on Glasgow, the Scottish Government should be praised for keeping up the pressure – with a dossier drawn up and handed over at COP27, as well as more funding pledged.

On the first day of COP28, world leaders agreed to set up a loss and damage startup fund – with millions already promised.

But now that reputation the Scottish Government has fostered is wanted elsewhere.

Monica Lennon’s laudable campaign to make ecocide, the wilful destruction of the environment, a specific crime in Scotland, is trying to tap into some of that.

The First Minister, while at COP28, met with campaigners leading the global charge for ecocide laws – sending a strong signal that the Scottish Government could back the ecocide plans.

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It would be a bizarre move if the Scottish Government didn’t end up backing, at least in principle, Ms Lennon’s proposals – it fits with the SNP’s ideology on climate, the Greens have already publicly backed them and Holyrood ministers have legislation in place to “keep pace” with EU law in devolved areas – and Brussels is pushing ahead with ecocide plans.

The standing of the Scottish Government on pledging to tackle the climate crisis is amplified by the lack of enthusiasm from Rishi Sunak’s UK Government.

The Prime Minister likes a private jet and he also likes to hand out new oil and gas licences. He also, only a couple of months ago, watered down key net zero plans in order to try and pry voters from the clutches of Labour.

Mr Sunak’s apparent support for the climate crisis appears to many as hypocrisy on steroids.

But despite Scotland having a proud reputation on the global stage for tackling the climate crisis, things at home don’t look that rosy.

The Scottish Government appears to be lacking confidence in what message it wants to send out on the dwindling North Sea oil and gas sector.

The delayed energy strategy has been delayed again – until next summer. That should set out whether SNP ministers are comfortable enough to call for an acceleration of winding down that crucial economic sector.

The Scottish Government, as a matter of urgency, will need to publish its updated climate change plan, to restore credibility and confidence at home, that SNP and Green ministers remain committed to tackling the climate crisis.

Scotland has failed to hit eight out of the last 12 annual climate emissions targets and its legal 2030 commitment looks like toast without some serious work to catch up.

Warm words and building a reputation overseas for doing the right thing should be shouted about. But what will really matter is ministers following through on commitments to end Scotland’s contribution to the climate crisis and being serious about it.

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